May 12, 2023 8 min read

Missouri General Assembly addresses economic headwinds, positions Missouri for growth

Senate dysfunction stalls some key business priorities.

During the 2023 legislative session, Missouri lawmakers took action to address the headwinds slowing our state’s economic growth. By focusing on employers’ primary concerns, including growing crime and workforce shortages, Missouri is better positioned to become a global economic leader.

However, too often, political posturing and Senate dysfunction stood in the way of moving Missouri forward. Both legal climate reform and child care were top business priorities that were ultimately stalled by obstructionists, led by Sen. Bill Eigel (R-Weldon Spring). Reforming Missouri’s lengthy statute of limitations, which currently tilts the judicial system against businesses and hurts the state’s economic competitiveness, was a business community priority that was stymied in the Senate by trial attorney-backed legislators. Despite wide bipartisan support for addressing Missouri’s child care crisis, endorsed by both Gov. Mike Parson and the Missouri Chamber, a small group of these same legislators blocked progress on this statewide economic issue that harms the ability of businesses to recruit and retain workers.

Nonetheless, backed by a united business community, the Missouri Chamber used its strength to turn back anti-business legislation and pass several key priorities.

Our successes included:

  • Taking steps to curb Missouri’s rising crime rate
  • Building and retaining a skilled workforce
  • Positioning Missouri as a logistics hub through transportation investment
  • Protecting the right to Let Business Decide on workplace policies
  • Ensuring Missouri businesses remain in Missouri
  • Bolstering efforts to onshore high-tech manufacturing in Missouri
  • Improving access to quality health care

“Each year, the Missouri Chamber begins the legislative session by polling CEOs and business leaders across the state. Workforce was the top concern of Missouri employers, with 60 percent also citing public safety and crime as a growing concern. These headwinds threaten our state’s economic growth,” said Dan Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber. “I’m proud to say we moved Missouri forward by advocating for policies that address these concerns. We applaud the leaders in the Missouri General Assembly who showed strong support for our job creators and believe their efforts will pay dividends in Missouri for years to come.”

Improving public safety

After years of dramatically increasing statewide crime rates, the Missouri Chamber elevated public safety to the forefront of discussion and action this legislative session.

“We are encouraged by lawmakers’ action on the growing problem of public safety and look forward to the day when Missouri’s crime rate no longer hinders our state’s economic growth,” Mehan said. “This is not just a problem in our cities. Crime is rising throughout the state, and it is impacting nearly every Missourian. These statistics are negatively impacting our businesses and our economy, but most destructive is the impact on people’s lives.”

Proposed legislation, including House Bill 301, placed increasing pressure on St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. Gardner, who faced mounting criticism over a failure to prosecute cases, announced she will step down from her role June 1.

Lawmakers took additional action by passing Senate Bill 189, sponsored by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer (R-Parkville) and handled by Rep. Lane Roberts (R-Joplin), and Senate Bill 186, sponsored by Sen. Justin Brown (R-Rolla) and handled by Rep. Alex Riley (R-Springfield). These bills include several provisions to address the multi-faceted and complex issue of rising crime, including:

  • Increasing sentencing standards for repeat violent offenders;
  • Establishing minimum prison terms for armed criminal action;
  • Enacting Blair’s Law to increase penalties for reckless celebratory gunfire;
  • Easing the process for record expungement;
  • Strengthening penalties for ATM smash and grabs;
  • Establishing universal factors for setting bail; and
  • Creating a law enforcement training reimbursement program.

Many of these provisions are recommendations from a report issued by the Missouri Chamber called Safer Missouri, Stronger Missouri. More than 500 businesses and individuals signed a Missouri Chamber petition this session, urging legislators to act on public safety measures.

Building and retaining a skilled workforce

Another victory for the Missouri Chamber this session was the passage of an employee training bill critical to helping employers build and retain a skilled workforce.

House Bill 417, sponsored by Rep. Mike Henderson (R-Bonne Terre) and handled by Sen. Karla Eslinger (R-Wasola), creates a short-term upskill credentialing program. This is a grant program that will reimburse employers who help their employees earn short-term professional credentials in vital areas for Missouri’s economy.

Examples of short-term credentials that will be eligible for reimbursement through the program include manufacturing technology, cybersecurity, welding, certified nursing assistant and HVAC certification.

The Missouri Chamber was a strong supporter of this legislation, deeming it critical in supporting Missouri in the global competition for jobs and talent.

“We hear from employers every week who are struggling to find workers with the right skills,” Mehan said. “Missouri’s population growth can’t match the demand for workers, so we need to make the most of who we have right now. This is truly a win-win, because when companies invest in the professional development of their employees, those individuals are far more likely to stay at that business and enjoy better opportunities.”

Positioning Missouri as a logistics hub

Missouri’s central location has long been a major advantage. Now, a transformational investment in the state’s major east-west artery will further position our state as a national – and global – logistics leader.

The 2023 budget includes $2.8 billion to expand I-70 to three lanes across the entire state, maximizing Missouri’s potential to be a global logistics hub. I-70 is the oldest of Missouri’s interstate highways with portions built in 1956. The corridor is vital to the global supply chains for many industries, and 84 percent of respondents surveyed in the Missouri CEO poll supported leveraging state and federal funds to increase its capacity.

“Being within a day’s reach of half of U.S. households, manufacturing establishments and the agricultural heartland has given Missouri a unique opportunity,” Mehan said. “But we cannot leverage that strength unless we invest in our interstate assets. We applaud Sen. Lincoln Hough’s visionary leadership as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee for spearheading this monumental investment in our transportation system.”

In addition, the Missouri Chamber successfully advocated for additional, targeted investments in our transportation system, including:

  • $20 million to conduct an environmental impact study on improvements to the I-44 corridor;
  • $5 million for an environmental impact study on Highway 63 improvements; and
  • Over $100 million in various funding programs for port authorities.

Stopping government overreach

Last year, the Missouri Chamber stood up against lawmakers as they attempted to dictate workplace vaccination policies. Once again, our efforts were needed to defend Missouri employers against anti-business legislation.

Legislators filed dozens of bills this session that aimed to revoke the long-held employer right to make workplace decisions about vaccination. The Missouri Chamber also fought back against a slew of proposed business mandates, including an extreme labeling requirement on Missouri products and anti-diversity language that threatened countless state contracts with private sector companies that provide vital services for Missourians. 

Our position remains the same: Let business decide.

Throughout the legislative session, the Missouri Chamber worked to raise awareness of government overreach, releasing its first list of the top job-killing business mandates under consideration in the General Assembly. In committee, the Missouri Chamber opposed roughly one out of every four bills.

By standing up for Missouri job creators, we have ensured the continuation of essential government services and protected all Missourians’ ability to run their business as they see fit.

“The Missouri Chamber will always defend free enterprise. No matter the issue, when government attempts to reach into business affairs, our position is simple – let business decide,” Mehan said. “Every employer is different, and we believe they know best how to run their own business. When it comes to workplace policies, government should stay out of the way.”

Supporting businesses that become employee owned

This session, the Missouri Chamber successfully advocated for the renewal of legislation that helps companies become employee owned.

In 2016, Missouri lawmakers created a 50 percent income tax deduction on the proceeds business owners receive when they sell their companies to their employees. The incentive was intended to encourage businesses to go the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) route versus selling to a competitor or passing the business to out-of-state ownership.

Senate Bill 20 repeals the 2022 sunset of the legislation and extends this successful incentive program. It was made possible thanks to the efforts of Sen. Justin Brown (R-Rolla), Sen. Mike Bernskoetter (R-Jefferson City), Rep. Don Mayhew (R-Crocker) and Rep. Barry Hovis (R-Whitewater).

“We believe ESOPs are incredibly important, especially when we’re in a global competition for jobs and talent,” Mehan said. “We believe it’s vital to make sure that we have access to every tool available to attract businesses to Missouri and retain the employees who work there.”

Onshoring high-tech manufacturing

In response to recent global supply chain disruptions, the Missouri Chamber has successfully championed a $15 million appropriation supporting efforts in Missouri to onshore high-tech manufacturing industries that are vital to national security. The funding will go toward helping Missouri attract semiconductor and pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturing as those industries look to domestic production options.

“There are strong national security and economic arguments being made right now about the need to onshore semiconductor and pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturing. As these industry functions look to expand in the United States, we think Missouri — a leading state for tech manufacturing growth — stands to benefit,” said Mehan. “If we succeed in attracting this industry expansion, the effects will ripple across our economy for decades to come.”

Fighting for access to quality health care

Another win this legislative session is improved access to quality health care for all Missourians. To address current health care provider shortages, the Missouri Chamber supported House Bill 402. This legislation reduces barriers for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), allowing them to practice to the full extent of their education and training. Backed by nurse practitioners and hospitals, this will help patients better access care, especially in rural areas.

Rep. Mike Henderson (R-Bonne Terre) sponsored HB 402. Sen. Elaine Gannon (R-De Soto) was its handler in the Senate. Sen. Rusty Black (R-Livingston), Sen. Nick Schroer (R-St.Charles County), Sen. Karla Eslinger (R-Wasola), Rep. Alex Riley (R-Springfield) and Rep. Patty Lewis (D-Kansas City) also sponsored similar legislation on this topic.

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